Uncovering the source of what makes us well dates back to ancient Greek philosophy. In fact, psychology uses these concepts to pinpoint where humans get their sources of wellbeing: hedonic and eudaimonic.
The path to hedonic wellbeing relies on gaining pleasure and enjoyment while avoiding pain and negative emotions. In contrast, the eudaimonic approach harnesses life purpose, meaning, and realization of one’s potential, as sources of happiness.
Think of hedonic wellbeing as going to a party or buying stuff as giving us pleasure. Eudaimonic, on the other hand, requires commitment. This can mean mastery of skills, dedicating your energy to self-improvement, or ideas you strongly believe in.
How Do They Work?
Hedonic and eudaimonic ways to happiness are not mutually exclusive. Studies show that having both improves wellbeing. Moreover, studies on genetics show an overlap with the genes that influence our hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing.
Some psychologists, however, warn of the hedonism-treadmill. This theory claims that each person has a happiness set point—a predominant level of happiness. Regardless of how many times we participate in events that benefit our wellbeing, the elation is always momentary. We always bounce back to the same level of happiness. Hence, a treadmill, since pleasure represents a never-ending pursuit of its accumulation. Whatever gives us pleasure will eventually cease, so we need to manufacture more of it. This is similar to the effects of dopamine in our brain. And also shows the importance of cultivating gratitude.
But this constant pursuit of happiness comes with some benefits. Studies find that hedonism is associated with health and mortality, while eudaimonia with physical and mental health and healthier lifestyles.
The popular saying “It’s OK to not be OK”, shows that we can’t expect to be elated and happy 100% of the time. But these studies prepare us for moments when we want to get ourselves out of a headspace we consider low or feel uncomfortable with. The good news, the hedonic offers a quick fix, if you will. When feeling low, go hangout with friends. Eudaimonic, on the other hand, provides a long-term solution. When feeling unmotivated, learn a new skill. Find an idea that represents who you are and dedicate energy to it.
In our digital world, which relies on constant updates, self-improvement might not translate well when it comes to defining happiness. These take time. A person having fun on a foreign trip with friends captures more attention than someone taking their first guitar lesson. However, a person who plays the guitar really well–that will probably captivate people more. Rarely do we associate happiness with a serious and focused face. We expect smiles. Something to keep in mind when the lure of short-term gratification calls. Are you sacrificing happiness based on eudaimonia for hedonism?
Remember, however, that to pursue eudaimonia, we need hedonism. Similar to athletes who train most of their lives for crucial moments, they need time to relax and let go along the way, to keep moving forward.
Balancing the two benefits us most.